ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg Housing Authority will demolish the only remaining original section of Jordan Park — known as the Historic Village — and replace it with a 60-unit apartment building for seniors.
The board of commissioners made its decision Thursday despite the pleas of Jordan Park supporters who gathered at the agency’s Gandy Boulevard headquarters. Among those in the standing room crowd were a majority of St. Petersburg City Council members, who had cancelled their morning committee meetings to attend.
The council has had a fraught relationship with the housing authority. Earlier this year it rejected a request from CEO Tony Love for a letter he said would help the agency proceed with a $43 million makeover of Jordan Park, a historic African-American community near 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue S.
Those who spoke Thursday were passionate and the meeting at times became heated as the audience interacted with board members and housing authority staff.
"We’re looking for a compromise," said Deborah Figgs-Sanders, a member of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area citizens’ advisory committee.
"It’s never too late to do the right thing," she added, urging the all-African-American commission not to forget from where they had come.
"He has no roots here," she said of Love, who in recent weeks has been excoriated by the community, which has called for his firing.
Jhanavi Pathak told the story of how a British officer gave the orders for Indian soldiers to fire on their own people during the colonial times.
"Don’t turn your weapons on your community," she told the commission. "Don’t do the oppressors’ job for them."
Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, in whose district Jordan Park sits, expressed her anger and frustration at the authority’s refusal to meet with the City Council and called for a postponement of Thursday’s vote.
"I’m very disappointed," she said later. "And I’m also disappointed that the commissioners would not accept my invitation to come to City Council … where we could talk in the sunshine about Jordan Park and the residents who use St. Petersburg Housing Authority."
The agency rolled out figures during the meeting to show that it would be too expensive to rehabilitate the Historic Village, which had housed elderly and disabled residents until they were forced to move in preparation for demolition.
Susan Bradley of Robert Reid Wedding Architects said a forensic study of the Historic Village showed it had termite, asbestos and structural issues. Most of Jordan Park, originally built between 1939 and 1942, was demolished in 2000 and rebuilt. The Historic Village was saved then. Its units were renovated and new front porches built.
Bradley said the estimated cost to save the Historic Village’s 31 units would be $4.1 million. On the other hand, the estimate to build the new three-story, 60-unit apartment building is $9 million, with renovation for the remaining 206 Jordan Park apartments coming in at $11.8 million.
Michelle Ligon, spokeswoman for the housing authority, said the agency’s decision "not only addresses the need for market-competitive and affordable housing, it also assures the sustainability of that housing as affordable" for years to come.
The surprise of the morning came when board member the Rev. Basha Jordan — grandson of St. Petersburg’s pioneer African-American businessman Elder Jordan Sr., after whom the complex is named — backed the plan. Jordan, who had been a staunch critic of demolishing what he had seen as his grandfather’s legacy, said he now understands and appreciates what Love is trying to do.
"I realize that our CEO has brought to us some opportunities that I had not realized before," Jordan said. "My heart is with Jordan Park. My heart is with the residents. My heart is with the sustainability of Jordan Park. ... I believe this is what my grandfather would want."
Ann Sherman-White was the only commissioner to vote against the decision. The resolution also called for a committee to be established to determine how the history of Jordan Park — where prominent St. Petersburg residents such as Angela Basset and Pinellas County School District chair Rene Flowers grew up — should be memorialized.
Also speaking Thursday was Terri Lipsey Scott, who had advocated for saving the Historic Village and emerged as a spokesperson for the residents forced to leave their homes, some for substandard housing.
"I’m grieved and saddened by the action of the board and their limited ability to be truthful and transparent," she said following the meeting.
Scott, who has been appointed to fill a vacant seat on the housing authority board, pending City Council approval, doesn’t think she will continue the effort to save the Historic Village.
"I think that I have pushed the rock as far as I can and that any other measure to preserve the Historic Senior Village should come from those who have experienced life in Jordan Park," she said.
Ligon said the housing authority hopes to begin demolition by the end of December or early January.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.